Four cybersecurity pointers for safer school networks

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Do you know where your data is stored?

With the increased emphasis on student data privacy, many school leaders might think they have a handle on cybersecurity. But even that seemingly simple question can have complex answers.

In a recent webinar hosted by edWeb.net, educators warned that with the increasing variety and strength of cyberattacks, most schools will face incursions. They outlined four key strategies for being proactive against hackers.

1. Educate staff thoroughly and frequently

Many schools still rely on an annual cybersecurity seminar or focus on too narrowly on a specific issue, like not posting student info online. Education programs need to be more comprehensive and be continuously held throughout the year. Peter Aiken, the superintendent for Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania, said his district partnered with a company to educate staff about email threats, like phishing attacks. The company periodically sends phishing tests to staff and those who click links in those emails are given remedial lessons.

2. Filter incoming information

While teachers may complain, having website filters and blocks can decrease the possibility of criminals accessing schools’ networks. In addition, presenters said they employ geofencing for their school email systems, subjecting any emails coming from outside the United States to manual approval. 

3. Develop a comprehensive disaster plan

Hope for the best and plan for the worst, advised Donna Wright, director of schools at the Wilson County Schools in Tennessee. School leaders should have a plan for each system that includes data backups, how to shut down an affected system and disengage it from the network, and a recovery plan. Schools need to have a rapid response to any attacks and understand what to do for a rapid recovery. In addition, many districts have started purchasing cybersecurity insurance. The school’s plan is important here, to, however, as coverage depends on a school’s compliance with its policy’s parameters, speakers said.

4. Know the life of your data

This starts with knowing where your primary and backup data is stored, whether on-site or in the cloud. Schools should also classify their data — as public, internal-use only, etc. — so they know who can view it, modify it and dispose of it. Additional questions include: Who has access to data on site and at a vendor? How do the vendors treat your data? And if you leave a vendor, what is their policy for destruction and disposal of data?

Overall, schools are moving on from acceptable-use policies to coverage from exposure. That doesn’t mean, though, that those original policies are dead. Instead, they’ve expanded to cover responsible use, identity, biometrics and safety. 

“It’s not just one policy for the librarian anymore. Now, it’s a policy for everybody,” said Michael Lubelfeld, the superintendent of schools at North Shore School District 112 in Illinois. “And I know sometimes we get busy, and we don’t want to think about this, but it’s essential to have your priorities and procedures in place and educate folks that you have new practices. Everyone is at risk.”

About the presenters

Dr. Peter Aiken is currently the superintendent of Manheim Central School District. He is passionate about preparing students for a world that gets crazier by the day. Dr. Aiken began his teaching career in Norfolk, Virginia, as a reading teacher. He returned to Pittsburgh as a high school English teacher. On his way to becoming a superintendent of schools, he has garnered tremendous leadership lessons as an assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent. Dr. Aiken’s core leadership tenet is everything rises and falls on relationships. Originally from Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Dr. Aiken now resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three kids. He is an avid reader, often found running and ruminating after a great read. You are invited to connect with him on Twitter and share your favorite leadership book at @pj_aiken. You can also read his leadership blog at educationrewired.org.

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld currently serves as the superintendent of schools in the North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, and Highwood, Illinois. He earned his Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University of Chicago, where his published dissertation was on effective instruction in middle school social studies. He is also on the adjunct faculty at National Louis University in the Department of Educational Leadership. Dr. Lubelfeld can be found on Twitter at @mikelubelfeld, and he co-moderates #suptchat, the monthly superintendent educational chat on Twitter. He co-authored the 2017 Rowman & Littlefield book The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today and the 2018 Rowman & Littlefield book Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable. Dr. Lubelfeld has been married to his wife Stephanie for the past 15 years and they have two children.

Dr. Donna Wright began serving as Director of Schools for Wilson County Schools in 2014. Wilson County Schools is a rapidly growing school district of 19,000 students located outside of Nashville, Tennessee. In the last several years district-wide academic performance has significantly improved. The district is undergoing the largest school building program in the history of the county, a concentrated emphasis on early literacy instruction is a focal point and college and career readiness is a hallmark in middle and high schools. She has worked in public school education — K-12 and higher ed — for nearly forty years. The National School Board Association has recognized Wilson County Schools for its innovative use of technology. Dr. Wright holds a Doctorate in Leadership Studies from the University of Tennessee, has earned several awards, including the Women of Achievement Award and the UT Educators Hall of Honor Award. In September 2019, Dr. Wright was named the 2020 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year.

Dr. Rich Contartesi, an accomplished K-12 assistant superintendent, CIO and CTO, is CEO and co-founder of K12 as a Service. Rich’s experience provides a unique strategic and operational perspective to develop, lead, and integrate technology, instruction and business functions. He has successfully led the implementation of technologies including enterprise-level student information systems, instructional management and learning systems, data warehouse, security, infrastructure, iPads, Chromebooks, 1:1 device programs, including shared and individual student devices and enterprise resource planning systems. Rich is an active speaker, co-author, contributor, panelist and presenter for numerous technology and educational organizations including CoSN, IMS Global, Data Quality Campaign, the BLE-Group, FETC, ISTE, VSTE, and the Council of Great City Schools.

About the host

Ann McMullan is the project director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as executive director of Educational Technology in the Klein Independent School District, near Houston, Texas, until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 professional educators serving 50,000 students. Ann served as co-chair of Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020. Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles working as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Project Tomorrow advisory council and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann co-authored Life Lessons in Leadership, a guide for leaders ages eight to 88.

Join the community

Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders. 

The edWeb webinar referenced above, hosted by CoSN and sponsored by ClassLink, can be found here.

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